Taking Steps to Prevent Drowning

When Being Careful is Not Enough.....
Taking Steps to Prevent Drowning

life preserver

person swimmingEach year in New York State, hundreds of people drown or are hospitalized for injuries that occur while underwater, some of which result in brain damage. Here are some facts from a recent New York State Department of Health study:

  • Children under age five and teenagers had the highest drowning rates.
  • Males were six times more likely to drown than females.
  • Drownings can occur in both large and small amounts of water: lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, oceans, pools, spas, as well as bathtubs, buckets, drainage ditches, wells and sewers.
  • The youngest children usually drowned in pools at home by falling into the water, and people of all other ages most often drowned in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and the ocean.
  • Drownings were associated with all kinds of watercraft: motorboats, canoes, rowboats, rafts, paddleboats, sailboats and kayaks. Ninety percent of people who drowned while boating were not wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices.
  • About 40% of people who drowned were alone in the water at the time of the incident.
  • About half of all drownings of people over age 14 were associated with alcohol and/or drug use.


  • Make sure every baby, child, teen and adult wears a personal flotation device (PFD), such as a life vest. The vest should have a Coast Guardapproved label, fit snugly and be in good condition. For younger children, look for such features as head support and a strap between the legs. Never use plastic rings or water wings in place of a personal flotation device. Choose a PFD that you are willing to wear, because it cannot help you if it stays in the boat. Be aware of rivers, streams and channels that have low-head dams and waterfalls. Low-head dams are typically man-made structures, six inches to ten feet high, across a river or stream. They can present a special danger, because very strong backwash currents, which may pull people in, are present at the base of the dam or waterfall.
  • Obtain information about water and weather conditions in advance when boating in unfamiliar areas. Many drownings occur in bodies of water that are not well known by the victim.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, whether you are a boat passenger or operator.

Drowning can be prevented. Here's what you can do.

  • Never swim alone. Always swim with a "buddy." Keep an eye on each other. Parents should make sure they are watching their children, even when other adults or a lifeguard is present.
  • Don't drink alcohol if you are planning to swim or go boating. Alcohol slows reaction time and affects balance and judgment.
  • Use extra caution if you have a medical condition, such as a seizure disorder, diabetes or a heart problem that can cause disability or loss of consciousness while in the water. A change in medication or skipping medication can have disastrous results.
  • Be aware that in natural bodies of water, swift current, deep water and/or a sudden drop-off can get you in trouble, even if you are a good swimmer.
  • Recognize a drowning person when you see one. Many people think that if someone is not calling for help, that person is not in trouble. Remember that when someone is drowning, he or she is trying to breathe, not speak. It may appear that the person is splashing or waving. Typically, the person thrashes in the water with arms extended, attempting to keep his or her head above water. This happens VERY FAST.. in as few as 20 seconds or as long as a minute. Any delay can be fatal.

Pool Owners

  • Make pools inaccessible to children, unless an adult is directly supervising them. Proper fencing should be constructed in accordance with the State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code. It is recommended that a house not be considered as the fourth side of the fence if it has an opening that gives children access when adults are not present. Use self-closing, self-latching gates as part of the fencing. Make sure all the equipment (fencing, hardware) is maintained and in good condition.
  • Be aware that solar covers may delay the discovery of a submerged child. When checking a pool for a missing child, make sure the cover is completely removed.
  • Make pool safety a priority. Many drownings occur when people are not aware of the responsibilities of owning a swimming pool.

For More Information, Contact:

New York State Department of Health
Center for Environmental Health
Bureau of Community Sanitation and Food Protection
547 River Street, Room 515
Troy, New York 12180-2216
518-402-7600 or 1-800-458-1158